Niall Shukla’s ‘A Doll Distorted’ has already enjoyed a spate of awards at festivals, and its acceptance at numerous others is a testament to the potential genre critics/fans are seeing in this unsettling short film.
Frankly, success well deserved.
The plot revolves around Jane, a middle-aged woman who suffers from a haphephobia, which, as the film’s opening screen conveniently informs us is the pathological fear of touch. Tormented by memories of her high school crush and the ensuing years alone in isolation she decides to recreate he fantasy love life with the help of a synthetic love doll she orders from off the internet. Unbalanced by her psychosis her fantasy turns nightmare as her time with it progresses.
In a reflection of Jane’s declining mental state the story is, at times, told in fragments with similar scenes often shown from a different perspective, and on occasion, offering an alternative outcomes. Some scenes offering symbolism towards Janes health issues, others dropping small clues which, like incoherent pieces of a puzzle, only make sense at the film’s conclusion. I found the style to be both clever and mesmerising, artistic, without becoming pretentious. Where the filming is more typical ‘A Doll Distorted’ plays out as a more mature entry in the haunted doll sub-genre popularised recently through James Wan’s creations.
At all times the film is astonishing.
I would like to say that the films numerous effective scare scenes are what have me recommending this movie to anyone who will listen, scenes where the tension and atmosphere build using tried and tested genre formula, without compromising the films overarching tone or context; but there are elements within ‘A Doll Distorted’ which for me makes these achievements the ‘icing the cake’ so to speak. Similarly, whilst I would love to direct all my praise for ‘A Doll Distorted’ towards Nicci Brighten for her commitment to her role as Jane, effectively bringing to life a difficult character whose scenes envoke complex emotions such as pity and horror at the same time; but her steller performance is overshadowed still.
Indeed, right from the opening scenes this film had my full attention - presentation on offer here is outstanding. I saw it on my television, I can only imaging how stunning this short looks on the big screen. The rhythmic use of colours and textures, the meticulous use of camera angles and shadows is a masterclass in how to make the absolute most of your 15 minutes. I really could go on and on about how almost every scene makes use of space, camera shots and lighting help to portray Jane’s claustrophobic environment as a world far larger in her mind. Where she has built up a glasshouse which is both a prison and a sanctuary from her perspective.
I know nothing about Niall Shukla, or his two-man team, aside from a name in our in-box, but I can imagine this must have been an absolute labour of love.
It was worth it.
Overall, if ‘A Doll Distorted’ is playing at a festival near you then make every attempt to see it. The film covers a lot of ground effectively in its 16-minute runtime, from scares to awkward to watch sexual themes, from portrayal of fragile mental states to one pretty grim scene involving quite a bit of blood. As I said in my opener, this film has already received some well-earned recognition and I can see that list of accolades continuing to grow as the season progresses.